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NIH Grantees, Alumni Awarded Nobel Prizes

Of the 13 Nobel Prizes in six categories awarded for the year 2000, four were won by NIH grantees, bringing the total number of Nobel laureates funded by NIH to 102 since the honors began in 1901.

All three winners of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine have links to NIH; interestingly all three were intramural scientists here in the late 1950's. Long-time grantees Dr. Eric R. Kandel and Dr. Paul Greengard were honored for their discoveries in signal transduction in the nervous system. Together their work has improved treatments for Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, depression and holds promise for the improvement of memory in various types of dementia. Kandel, of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University, was a scientist in the Laboratory of Neurophysiology, NIMH, headed by Dr. Wade H. Marshall, in 1958 and 1959. He and Greengard, who spent a year in the then National Heart Institute but is now with the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Science at Rockefeller University, received the award jointly with Dr. Arvid Carlsson of the University of Gothenburg, who also was once a scientist on the Bethesda campus (but was not subsequently a grantee and is not officially claimed as an NIH-supported Nobelist).

Two other long-time grantees — Dr. James J. Heckman of the University of Chicago, and Dr. Daniel L. McFadden of the University of California at Berkeley — were awarded the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel, 2000.

Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, NIH acting director, congratulated the medicine laureates and said, "This work is very important in understanding how the more than hundred billion nerve cells in the brain communicate. I am proud that NIH has provided long-term and consistent support to these fine scientists over decades."

The National Institute of Mental Health has provided more than 30 years of research support to Kandel and Greengard. Support has also been provided by NINDS, NIA, NIAAA, NIDA, NIGMS and NHLBI.

Kandel received the prize for his elucidating research on the functional modification of synapses in the brain. Initially using the sea slug as an experimental model but later working with mice, he has established that the formation of memories is a consequence of short and long-term changes in the biochemistry of nerve cells.

Greengard, who spent 1958-1959 in the Laboratory of Clinical Biochemistry, NHI, under the late Dr. Sidney Udenfriend, was recognized for his discovery that dopamine and a number of other transmitters can alter the functional state of neuronal proteins.

Carlsson, who worked from the mid to the late fifties in the National Heart Institute's Laboratory of Chemical Pharmacology headed by Dr. Bernard Brodie, identified dopamine as a neurotransmitter and established that decreases in the function of dopamine could explain the deficits in Parkinson's disease. Dopamine was subsequently recognized as having a role in psychiatric as well as neurological diseases.

The laureates in economics were recognized for their work in the field of microeconometrics, where each has developed theory and methods that are widely used in the statistical analysis of individual and household behavior, within economics as well as other social sciences.

The citation reads "to James Heckman for his development of theory and methods for analyzing selective samples and to Daniel McFadden for his development of theory and methods for analyzing discrete choice."

Kirschstein expressed her delight that these two grantees have made such significant advances in the social sciences. "Over the years, most of the Nobel laureates who have been funded by NIH to advance scientific knowledge won their prizes in physiology or medicine, or in chemistry," she said. "I am happy to see that the honor has been extended to NIH-supported work in economics."

Heckman was honored for his pioneering work in accounting for unknown factors affecting statistical samples. He is currently being funded by NICHD to study the effects of earning a high school equivalency diploma, or G.E.D., on an individual's later economic prospects. The National Institute of Mental Health has also provided support for Heckman's early research.

McFadden was cited for his work involving a new theory of "discrete choice," a way to measure how an individual's decisions regarding occupation or housing, for instance, reflect choices among a limited number of alternatives. He has been supported by the National Institute on Aging's Behavioral and Social Research Program since 1986.


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